How 3D Dental Imaging Works

By Premier Dental of Ohio

Learn how we use 3D dental imaging

3D Dental Imaging: Intraoral Scanning

One of the most exciting advances in dental imaging technology is three-dimensional intraoral scanning. Of all of the newer technologies we offer at Premier Dental of Ohio, this one seems to make our patients the most happy! In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about three-dimensional intraoral scanning.

What is 3D Intraoral Scanning?

Three-dimensional intraoral scanning is a method of capturing a digital replica of your teeth. Unlike intraoral photography, which is two-dimensional like any other form of digital photography, intraoral scanning is three-dimensional, and the image it produces is a three-dimensional “model”.  

Intraoral scanners use a small, wand-shaped camera to capture thousands of tiny images of the teeth as your dentist, hygienist or assistant scans it over every surface of the teeth. These images immediately convert into a digital model, visible on a connected computer screen. The dental professional capturing your image monitors the building model and adjusts or corrects any areas of deficiency during scanning for a complete picture of your teeth.

How Does 3D Intraoral Scanning Work?

The technology in three-dimensional intraoral scanning works by stitching together those thousands of tiny images using areas of overlap, piecing them together into a perfect puzzle-piece fit. The different angulation of the wand informs the software of varying surfaces, so that the combination creates a three-dimensional digital model.

How Do Dentists Use 3D Intraoral Scanning?

Three-dimensional intraoral scanning takes the place of dental impressions in many cases.  Traditional impressions use a material that changes in consistency via a setting reaction. The material begins as a relatively moldable consistency, and after setting, holds a specific rubbery shape.  Dentists use this to capture a “negative” of the exact shape of your teeth and gums. Then we place a different material into the “negative” to build a physical three-dimensional model.  

Most dental patients are familiar with this gooey impression process.  

Three-dimensional intraoral scanning replaces gooey impressions with a digital camera. Dentists can use digital impressions for many of the same applications as traditional impressions.

We use 3D intraoral scans for the following dental applications:

  • Dental crowns and bridges
  • Nightguards for clenching and/or grinding
  • Teeth whitening trays
  • Orthodontic treatment
  • Dental implant restorations
  • Athletic mouthguards
  • Study models - physical models of the teeth used to show a pre-treatment state of the teeth, aid in treatment planning, and show achieved changes by dental treatments.

Dental laboratories use 3D intraoral scans to create physical models, and they do this by combining this technology with another exciting one: 3D printing!

What Does it Feel Like to have an Intraoral Scan?

The great news is that it does not feel like much of anything. The wand-like camera does not actually touch the teeth in most cases. Your dentist, hygienist or assistant holds the wand steadily over the teeth and slowly moves it in a specific pattern to capture and stitch together all of the images necessary to comprise a complete model.

There is no chemical used in conjunction with intraoral scanning, so there are no unpleasant tastes or odors.  

Anyone who has trouble keeping his or her mouth open for prolonged periods of time can simply take breaks. The software can quickly pick back up where the wand left off when you need to rest your mouth.

Most scanners make light clicking noises as they capture each individual image. Your practitioner is constantly watching the building model to ensure that he or she captures all surfaces. If the clicking noise stops, they may adjust the position or angle of the wand in order to capture a difficult to reach area.

Typically, a scan of all of the upper and lower teeth, including the way they bite together, takes about two to three minutes.  

What are the Advantages of 3D Intraoral Scanning?

Intraoral scans provide precise replicas of the teeth, down to tenths of a millimeter. The accuracy of the various scanners is typically higher than the accuracy of traditional dental impressions. Interestingly, most dental labs now use three-dimensional scanners to create digital models from traditional impressions, too.  

The digital model that the scanner captures is easy to share digitally (either via email or through a web portal) with a dental lab. This means that there is faster communication and less risk of materials being lost in the mail. If an email does not go through, we can simply re-send it.

The biggest advantage of 3D intraoral scanning is enhanced patient comfort. While some patients may not have trouble with traditional impressions, no one actually likes them. There are some who truly cannot tolerate the procedure of capturing dental impressions of their teeth, and this often leads them to avoid vital dental care. If you or a loved one struggle with gagging during this traditional procedure, you will be very happy with the digital impression process using a 3D intraoral scanner.  

Are 3D Intraoral Scanners Safe?


Three-dimensional intraoral scanners are digital cameras with advanced software. They are not x-rays or any other type of imaging that uses radiation to capture its images. The only potential side effect of undergoing a 3D intraoral scan is jaw fatigue from keeping your mouth open for a few minutes. We like to minimize this side effect by offering breaks as needed.

More Questions about 3D Intraoral Scanning?

Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to learn whether that particular office has a three-dimensional intraoral scanner. We are proud to offer this technology in some of our offices, and we have not yet expanded it to every Premier Dental location. If you are interested in undergoing your necessary dental treatment using intraoral scanning, we can direct you to the nearest location that has a scanner and transfer you as a patient there!

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